We have to give you steroid injections to develop the babies’ lungs. We also need to put you on something called Magnesium Sulphate. It is a muscle relaxant. It will paralyze the uterine muscles so that the contractions cease’.
I did not want to hear the rest of his words. My eyes were full of tears. I put my hand on my stomach, whispering prayers to all the Gods and Saints I could think of. I asked them to protect my babies, to not let them come out just yet, to give them a fighting chance!
‘Mag will paralyze all muscles Shefali’, the doctor continued. ‘You will not be able to move at all. We will need to keep checking your heart rate to ensure that it does not affect your heart. The heart is a muscle too.’
I didn’t care. I did not want to know what Mag could do to me. All I wanted was an assurance. That everything would be alright. That my kids will survive.
‘The neo-natologist on duty will come and brief you about the possible health issues if the babies come out early’, said Dr. Simmons, his blue eyes brimming with sympathy. ‘Don’t worry, he will give you all the information you need’.
‘No, No, NO’! I felt like screaming. ‘I don’t need information. I need someone to tell me that everything is going to be fine. I need someone to reassure me that my babies will live. That they will be healthy’.
After Dr. Simmons left, a nurse came to set up the IV. As she jabbed the needle in my arm, she said ‘ I will start the Magnesium now. It is horrid. Probably the next worst thing to getting Chemotherapy. Be strong girl’.
As she started the drip, I could feel something like hot, molten lava coursing through my blood. It was pain beyond any pain I had ever known. It felt like my whole body was on fire. Electrodes connected my heart to a heart monitor. A catheter tube was inserted to collect the urine. The ordeal had started in right earnest!
The pain was so terrible; it made me want to claw at the needle. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t scream, I could only moan feverishly as the vile medicine continued its slow, painful, burning progress through my blood. Ganesh was constantly by my side, his helplessness evident in his body language. The only thing he could do was to hold my hand and murmur softly, ‘it will be okay, our babies will be okay’.
I don’t know how many minutes passed, but after some time, the neonatologist on duty came to talk to us. In the US, the doctors are required by law to brief you on all procedures, possible risks etc. That unenviable task had fallen on his shoulders. He seemed a nice enough man, gentle and kind.
His briefing was short and matter-of-fact. He told us what to expect if our kids were delivered in the next 48 hours. How tiny they would be, how many months of hospital stay they would need and what are their chances of survival. If they did survive, what are the possible physical and mental issues they could face.
Terms like ‘chances of survival’ ‘retinal blindness’, ‘autism’, ‘cerebral palsy’, ‘respiratory disorders’ came flying at us like stray bullets from an AK-47. Both Ganesh and I felt vulnerable and scared as we never had before. We felt very alone, far away from the comforting cocoon of the family. This was our greatest battle as a couple and we were in it together. Just by ourselves.
As we listened to the doctor, I experienced a feeling of despair like never before. It was like a vast, unending vortex of darkness had sucked me in and there was no way out.
Ganesh experienced it too. This feeling of hopeless despair. He dealt with it by smoking constantly. He would go out of the room every few minutes, smoke a cigarette and come back. He would hold my limp hand and sit there, motionless. We would not talk. Just feel our fingers entwine and try to draw desperate strength from each other.
There was nothing we could do, but wait. And what a long, interminable wait it was. Mag had now started doing things to my mind. It was making me delirious and paranoid. Every time the nurse entered to check the IV, I would feel blind terror clawing my heart. Every time someone switched on the TV, I would feel that the news anchor was about to get me. Every time the pathologist came to draw blood, I would recoil with horror thinking that she is here to kill my babies. In fact, I felt some semblance of normalcy return to my mind only when Ganesh was in the room. I had become like a small, helpless child, clinging on to him desperately for hope, for survival.
The whole ward waited with baited breath. An assorted staff of no less than eighteen medical professionals, doctors, assistants, neonatologists, nurses, anaesthesiologists, their assistants was kept on stand-by. The hospital had to get their biggest operation theatre opened, cleaned and ready for this momentous occasion, because so many people wouldn’t fit inside a normal OB-Gyn operation theatre.
As we waited for the steroid injections to work their magic and for Mag to paralyze my uterus down to inaction, I turned to prayer in between the wild hallucinations that continued to haunt me.
Thus passed the longest night of my life. I remember every excruciating minute of it. I close my eyes and I can feel the IV falling in tiny drops, I can feel the cold plastic of the catheter between my legs, experience the awful scratching feeling where the needle entered my arm, the fake plastic flowers in the vase next to the little basin, the furrow between the night nurse’s eyebrows as she came to check on me, the scalding hot feeling as what seemed like raw acid coursed through my veins, the tight line of my husband’s lips as he grappled with his own fears, the way the neo-natologist never met my eyes but directed all his talk to my husband and the feeling of sheer hopelessness that took over my entire being!